A masterpiece of compassion | Sunday Observer

A masterpiece of compassion

19 May, 2019

Our last week’s Spectrum lead story, written by eminent journalist, Kalakeerthi Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa, focuses on the value of inter-racial harmony among the different communities in the island citing the example of the recently built massive rock-cut Buddha statue at the Rambodagalla village near Kurunegala.

This Vesak season, perhaps, the Rambodagalla Buddha statue, which is a powerful spiritual symbol of Buddhist faith, would be a fine example to pursue racial harmony in the country. Coexistence expresses the joy of witnessing the love and harmony prevailing among humanity. It is therefore strong evidence of a peaceful coexistence between the different communities.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit this massive 67.5 feet seated rock-cut Samadhi Buddha statue when we headed towards Arankele through Ridigama in the outskirts of Kurunegala. It was dawn when we reached there and we spent a couple of hours at the site until the sun’s rays filtered on the statue.

I felt fortunate to be here at the Rambodagalla sacred site, one of the most serene Buddhist places in the country. A neatly kept stone staircase led us on a steady climb through the rock boulder to the Buddha statue carved out into a solid rock.

Bamian Buddha statue

This statue is not strange to me. I have visited it many times during its construction since 2002 and photographed it at several stages of construction. After it was completed in 2010, I visited and photographed it again and again.

The temple, Vidyasagara Pirivena at Moneragala in the Rambodagalla village, famous for coconut, is situated off Kurunegala.

To visit this magnificent work of art one has to drive down the Kurunegala – Kandy road for about four kilometres, then turn left at the Mallawapitiya junction and continue on the Keppetigala road for 20 km.

There is an interesting narration how the seed was sown to build such a massive Buddha statue.

One day in 2001, a village boy who attended Sunday Dhamma School at the Rambodagalla temple rushed to the chief incumbent of the temple, Ven. Egodamulle Amaramoli Thera and expressed his enrage at the destruction of the ancient standing Buddha statue in the Bamian valley in Afghanistan by a Taliban extremist terrorist group in 2001.

The chief monk then told the student that Buddhists don’t take revenge, instead, showed compassion towards them according to the Buddha’s teaching. Thus the idea was initiated in the mind of the chief incumbent of the temple, to build a statue not second to the centuries-old tallest statue destroyed by Taliban terrorists.

Rambodagalla Temple in Moneragala is situated near Ridigama in Kurunegala close to the Deduru Oya in an enchanting plain surrounded by a mountain range with a living rocky boulder where the magnificent Buddha statue was to be hewn out into a living rock.

National integration

Under the guidance of the chief incumbent, the construction of the statue began on September 13, 2002. This enchanting statue 67.5 feet tall, in Dhyana Mudra (cross-legged) posture, is a true and lasting testimony to the spirit that exemplifies national integration.

Many philanthropists and dignitaries had helped the monk financially to complete this massive task of building the statue.

Among them was a leading Hindu businessman, the late D. Easwaran of Easwaran Brothers.

Although some politicians from Tamil Nadu were vociferous against Sri Lanka in the past, strangely, a group of their own people engaged in building this statue which indicates that art is not a barricade to race, religion or caste.

The statue was created by a team of South Indian Hindu craftsmen from Chennai and its chief Indian sculptor was Muthu Muthiah Sathapathi, a world renowned artiste who had been awarded the Padma Sri by the Indian government.

In September 2008, when I visited the site, the statue was being built by Indian craftsmen, emanating most of the features of the statue from the living rock. I climbed half way by ladder and photographed the statue with craftsmen at work.

That day, sitting on a stone slab in front of the statue, I watched the Indian craftsmen chiseling rock with electric grinders and local labourers removing the drilled rock, toiling in sweat in the intense heat of the day. I imagined then how our benovelent monarchs in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, had built magnificent rock-cut statues at the Samadhi statue in Anuradhapura, the Avukana statue and Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa, centuries ago during the golden era of Sinhalese art and architecture.

Centuries later, the country relives the pride and glory of sculpture through the making of another majestic Buddha statue and the craftsmanship of highly skilled South Indian sculptors.

Reckoned to be the largest cross-legged Buddha statue in the world, the construction has been completed after 13 years and the statue officially unveiled to the public on April 30, 2015.

Since then large crowds belonging to all communities are attracted to the site to witness the miracle of peace at Rambodagalla in the name of the demolished Bamian Buddha statue in Afghanistan.

A pilgrimage to the Samadhi statue at Vidyasagara Piriven Vihara at Rambodagalla in Kururnegala is indeed a spiritual journey that would last a lifetime.